Swiss (Ellington) Movement

I came upon this disc at a branch of the Free Library here in Philly. (Thank God for libraries and librarians. But what made somebody order this particular fairly obscure disc?) It documents a live performance by the Ellington band in Zurich in 1950, and it is fascinating to hear the band roughly mid-way between the Blanton-Webster masterpieces and the famous Newport appearance. The best thing about this Zurich disc is the solo work, rather than the compositions, although there are interesting things in that regard as well. I enjoyed Harry Carney, too infrequently in the spotlight, playing Strayhorn’s “Paradise”, and Johnny Hodges with his own Strayhorn showcase, “Violet Blue”. Strayhorn himself comes to center stage for a moment, with a solo turn on ” ‘A’ Train”. Among Duke’s own compositions on the album, “The Tatooed Bride” is the most extended, with some intricately layered writing, including some amazingly  pointillistic transitions. But in general there is a loose quality about this concert, with some of the tunes rather casually put together. I don’t know how it came to be, but Don Byas is a guest, and has an excellent solo on “How High the Moon”. Ernie Royal has a similar feature on a standard tune, with some choruses of “S’Wonderful”. The recorded sound is quite decent for the time and for a live performance, though balances are not always ideal. It is not clear to me why, but the band is carrying two drummers – Sonny Greer and Butch Ballard. Duke makes reference to them both in his remarks after “Bride” – it is not clear if they are alternating or if they sometimes play together – it doesn’t sound like more than one at a time. What did strike me is that  the drumming is sometimes heavy handed throughout the disc – accents boom through the texture annoyingly – perhaps a combination of the performer and the PA system? The booklet notes for the disc are almost unintelligible, and there are some interesting typos (the noted Italian trombonist “Quentini Jackson” makes an appearance). This is not in my top five Ellington albums, but anything by Duke is of interest, and you might want to check this out.

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